Reason 1: It's among the first books to explore the subject. The uranium boom's unique, intrinsic interest, coupled with the dearth of books addressing the period, give publishers a rare opportunity to grab the attention of readers. As I share the book’s subject matter with people, the responses are, almost without exception, surprise that they have never heard about the boom and a keen fascination to know more.
It has also been pointed out, both by readers at University of Nevada Press and others, that the book could be of great interest to schools for classes on U.S. and/or regional history, especially in the West.
As a reader at the University of Nevada Press wrote, “Alas, Poor Country could be an important contribution in that it covers the uranium boom and would contribute to the regional and national memory of the early excesses of the atomic age. … The uranium mining boom in the west has long begged for literary coverage and I am very pleased to see this effort in that direction.”
Reason 2: Uranium is back in the headlines.
Uranium has returned to the front pages in recent years. Both the argument for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the nation’s ongoing debates with North Korea and Iran hinge in part on uranium and nuclear weapons development.
As Iran continues to pursue its nuclear program, and as the threat increases that the material will find its way to terrorist groups, we can count on uranium becoming an increasingly prominent subject in the news. With so few other resources available, the public will find much to be fascinated by in a novel that explores our own nation’s relationship with uranium.
Global warming has become perhaps the defining issue of our age. In pursuit of a clean, carbon-neutral energy, many have begun to reconsider nuclear power. France now receives nearly 80 percent of its energy from nuclear power plants, Sweden more than 50 percent. Britain, Finland and Ukraine, among others, are looking to build new plants.
According to a recent Time magazine story entitled "Forget Chernobyl, Nuclear Energy Is Making a Comeback," "In the U.S., where no new plants have come online since 1996, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects applications for 27 new reactors over the next two years, and Congress has encouraged this by offering the nuclear industry billions of dollars in tax credits."
It is worth noting that a May 2008 Wired magazine story urged environmentalists to "go nuclear." Even James Lovelock, noted environmentalist and author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, supports further investigation of the controversial energy source.
Meanwhile, uranium prices have spiked in recent years. As Susan Moran and Anne Raup note in a 2007 New York Times article entitled "Uranium Ignites 'Gold Rush' in the West," "The price has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10."
There is every reason to believe that discussion of uranium will only become more prominent in the years ahead. And as the subject returns to public consciousness, so, too, will issues like: What is uranium? Where does it come from? And what are the effects on those who mine it? Alas, Poor Country explores each of these issues in a dramatic story full of tension and pathos.
Reason 3: It's a gripping tale of greed and murder.
While Alas, Poor Country is about uranium mining in the American West, one need not have any immediate interest in the subject to be grabbed by the story. As the University of Nevada Press’ reader wrote, “Readers would include people interested in the American Southwest and the book could have a wider audience, people drawn to stories that address the eternal issues of human tragedy, folly and avarice.”
A well-told story transcends its subject matter, be it comics (Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), corporate office life (Michael Ferris’ National Book Award finalist Then We Came to the End) or uranium.
To again quote the reader from the University of Nevada Press, “Sentence by sentence, the book [Alas, Poor Country] is very well written. The author writes good, pithy, descriptions and has a flare for spare, effective dialogue. He can also move his plot along handily with pleasing and effective twists, turns, reversals and rhythmic crescendos of tension and release.”
This combination of an increasingly high-profile subject and a compelling, well-crafted story would enable Alas, Poor Country to grab the interest and attention of a wide audience.
Reason 4: The public is fascinated by polygamist stories.
The April 2008 raid on the polygmist community in Texas and the ensuing media frenzy it inspired underscores the public's acute interest in these strict sects. One of the main characters in Alas, Poor Country is the leader of a fundamentalist Mormon enclave, and his story permits readers a rare glimpse into the innerworkings of one of these stubbornly private communities.
The popularity and success of Jon Krakauer's national bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith and HBO's "Big Love" series is further evidence that the subject is of considerable interest to the public and would thereby help attract an audience for Alas, Poor Country.
Reason 5: Current economic concerns are overstated.
There has been concern within the publishing world that the national economic downturn of the past few months would have an adverse effect on book sales. This has not materialized to the degree feared. In fact, book sales continue to increase.
In January, the Association of American Publishers cited a 7.2 percent increase in sales. Adult paperbacks jumped by 37.6 percent, while hardcovers rose 4.2 percent.
That momentum has continued. An April Publisher's Weekly story cites an 11.3 percent jump in sales. Also see Edward Nawotka's story entitled “Recession Fuels Sales at Spring Book Show.” A May story points to a 5 percent increase, with bookstore sales exceeding those in the overall retail segment.
As Sally Brewster, owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC, and president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, points out, “Books of all kinds become a bargain during a recession—$100 in books doesn't look so bad, when compared with, say, a trip to Puerto Rico.”
Meanwhile, some have pointed to the sluggish growth experienced by Barnes & Noble and Borders as evidence of a softening book market. But as Sara Nelson in a March story in Publisher’s Weekly explains, the dropping numbers are the result of a dramatic decline in the sales of music CDs, not books.